Salluit hunters rescue friend, snowmobile from open water
“I didn’t feel like swimming that night"
The blizzards and extreme windchill sweeping across the Canadian Arctic this month have made for dangerous travel conditions for Inuit hunters.
But hunters in Salluit are celebrating the successful rescue of a local man who went through ice on his snowmobile outside this Hudson Strait community in the dead of night.
On Jan. 9, Charlie Ikey, a Canadian Ranger and Kativik Regional Government employee, was on his way to the Deception Bay area, east of Salluit, by snowmobile when he stopped at a camp to spend the night.
His friend and fellow hunter, Charlie Pinguartuk, stopped by his camp to warm up with a cup of tea that night, before heading out by snowmobile at about 11:30 p.m.
“I said to him ‘Call me when you get to your camp, so I can turn off my radio,’” Ikey told Pinguartuk.
Another hunter, Noah Tayara, was waiting for Pinguartuk and when he hadn’t arrived by 1:00 a.m., Tayara went out looking for him.
That was a good thing, because Tayara found Pinguartuk perched on top of his qamutik box, floating on open water where his snowmobile had fallen through the ice. Tayara called Ikey at his camp.
“I went ‘whaaat?’” Ikey said. “I drove full speed to get there. It was about -48 C that night, and if he had fallen into the water, he would have frozen right away.”
The site was about 130 kilometres east of Salluit, towards Deception Bay.
As soon as Ikey arrived, he parked his snowmobile and walked across the thin lake ice towards Pinguartuk’s floating qamutik box, which was still attached to the submerged sled and snowmobile, more than 50 feet from land.
Ikey managed to help Pinguartuk off of his own qamutik and onto another one Tayara had brought out, and the men made it safely back to the shoreline. Pinguartuk was wet, but didn’t suffer hypothermia.
But he had left behind a number of supplies in his qamutik, which Ikey decided to go back and retrieve.
“So I walked back on that thin ice and it was cracking as I walked, but I didn’t go into panic mode,” he said. “I didn’t feel like swimming that night.”
While freeze-up along the region’s waterways happened weeks before, Ikey said this particular lake is fed by two rivers, which can cause flooding at certain times of the month.
A new layer of ice had formed on top of the lake recently and wasn’t thick enough to hold Pinguartuk’s snowmobile.
By the time the men returned to camp with Pinguartuk’s supplies, it was 4:30 a.m., Ikey said.
“He was very happy, he told me that I saved his life,” Ikey said. “But it was just the natural thing to do.”
The following day, a crew of eight hunters from Salluit returned to the site and, using cord and other snow machines, were able to retrieve Pinguartuk’s submerged snowmobile.
Ikey, a Community Reintegration Officer by day, has worked as a Canadian Ranger for the past 19 years and had led a number of search and rescue efforts around the community.
One of the most difficult was the search for his brother, Frankie Ikey, who went missing with a group who never returned from a 2011 boating trip.
Ikey warns other hunters in Nunavik about under-formed ice on waterways in the region.
“If you see mist or fog coming up from the ice, it usually means there’s water underneath and you’ve got to watch out,” he said.